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Archive for December, 2013

Do you think I should change that tagline at the top?  “A few chapters at a time”?  I never really managed more than two, and now that I seem to be down to one, it’s even less fitting…  Maybe I should use “pages” instead of “chapters”, or “scenes”…  Oh, well.  Anyway, welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, the premier reread for the works of Lois McMaster Bujold from her Vorkosigan Saga.  This week we cover another chapter of A Civil Campaign, her romantic science fiction novel set entirely on the planet of Barrayar, as a proposal is received and rejected, and another one is allowed to proceed.

Chapter Eight

Ekaterin goes over the Barrayaran garden, trying to determine what the various odours will be throughout the seasons, and making changes accordingly.  Her uncle and Nikki are not up yet, so she has a little while yet to concentrate on these aesthetic considerations before things get noisy again, though only a couple of hours before she has to be at the garden site to supervise the crew starting to get the “creek” set up.  Then she can put her Dendarii rocks into it and tune the water flow around them.  She’s already put up walls and terraces to block up city noise, quite satisfactorily.

By tonight, the bones of the thing would be complete. Tomorrow, the flesh, in the form of trucked-in, unterraformed native soils from remote corners of the Vorkosigan’s District, would arrive. And tomorrow evening before Lord Vorkosigan’s dinner party, just for promise, she would put the first plant into the soil: a certain spare rootling from an ancient South Continent skellytum tree. It would be fifteen years or more before it would grow to fill the space allotted for it, but what of that? Vorkosigans had held this ground for two hundred years. Chances were good Vorkosigans would still be there to see it in its maturity. Continuity. With continuity like that, you could grow a real garden. Or a real family . . .

The front door chimes, and Ekaterin realizes that she’s only in pajamas.  She’s prepared to duck upstairs in case it’s a formal visitor, but then she recognizes the voice as her sister-in-law Rosalie Vorvayne.  Rosalie greets her, sending her daughter Edie to play with Nikki, and says she has to talk with Ekaterin.  She says she’s taken the monorail up from Vordarian’s District, where Ekaterin’s brother Hugo has a civil service post; Aunt Vorthys offers her breakfast, and Rosalie settles for tea.  After updating them on her family’s news, Rosalie says she’s really there for Ekaterin; Ekaterin can’t imagine why.

Rosalie stretches it out for a little while, before saying that Ekaterin’s father received a visitor–a Baba, bringing a marriage offer from a proper Vor gentleman in Vorbarr Sultana.  They decided that someone should be dispatched to bring Ekaterin the good news in person.

A Vor gentleman from the capital, old-fashioned and highly conscious of etiquette, Da bowled over, who else could it be but—Ekaterin’s heart seemed to stop, then explode. Lord Vorkosigan? Miles, you rat, how could you do this without asking me first! Her lips parted in a dizzying mixture of fury and elation.

The arrogant little—! But . . . he to pick her, to be his Lady Vorkosigan, chatelaine of that magnificent house and of his ancestral District—there was so much to be done in that beautiful District, so daunting and exciting—and Miles himself, oh, my. That fascinating scarred short body, that burning intensity, to come to her bed? His hands had touched her perhaps twice; they might as well have left scorch marks on her skin, so clearly did her body remember those brief pressures. She had not, had not dared, let herself think about him in that way, but now her carnal consciousness of him wrenched loose from its careful suppression and soared. Those humorous gray eyes, that alert, mobile, kissable mouth with its extraordinary range of expression . . . could be hers, all hers. But how dare he ambush her like this, in front of all her relatives?

Rosalie says she seems to be pleased, and not entirely surprised; Ekaterin agrees that she isn’t, completely, though privately thinks that she hadn’t dared to believe it, because it would ruin everything.  Rosalie mentions that he has good career prospects and family connections, which Ekaterin says is, if anything, an understatement; not as rich as some families, but well enough.  Ekaterin wonders if Miles sending the Baba to her father instead of asking her directly was shyness, or arrogance…  Then she realizes that this may mean he’d only asked her to do his garden to stay close to her, instead of actually admiring her work or wanting the garden at all.  She knows she’s vulnerable to flattery like that, and wonders if she’s falling into another trap…

She’s barely listening to Rosalie, until she asks Ekaterin how she wants to convey her acceptance to Lieutenant Vormoncrief.  Ekaterin realizes, in dismay, that it was Alexi Vormoncrief that Rosalie’s been talking about all this time, and even says out loud that she’d thought the proposal was from Miles Vorkosigan.  Rosalie is puzzled for a moment, and then realizes she’s talking about that odd, grotesque little Imperial Auditor who came to Tien’s funeral.  Ekaterin is relieved to think that Miles hasn’t been courting her after all, and Rosalie points out that the family would never match her with a mutie, no matter how rich.  Unless, of course, Ekaterin really wants to be a Countess, in which case they can use a uterine replicator and have the children gene-cleaned, but Rosalie doesn’t think Ekaterin is that desperate.

“No,” Ekaterin agreed hollowly. Just desperately distracted. She was furious with the man; why should the notion of never ever having to have any physical contact with him make her suddenly want to burst into tears? Wait, no—if Vorkosigan wasn’t the man who’d sent the Baba, her whole case against him, which had bloomed so violently in her mind just now, collapsed like a house of cards. He was innocent. She was crazy, or headed that way fast.

Ekaterin firmly rejects Vormoncrief’s suit, calling him a “twittering idiot” and asking her aunt to back her up; Aunt Vorthys says that Ekaterin has lots of time yet, and can surely do better.  Rosalie wonders how they’ll break the news to Vormoncrief, and Ekaterin points out that that’s the Baba’s job.  Rosalie says that Ekaterin knows her own mind, but urges her not to be too picky, or wait too long, or she’ll end up living in her relatives’ attics.

Ekaterin excuses herself to get dressed; Rosalie said she’d hoped to spend the day shopping with Ekaterin, and they still can, even if not for wedding clothes.  Ekaterin, thinking of shopping with Miles, refuses, but she relents and agrees to have lunch with them.  She tells Rosalie about the garden she’s working on for Miles, and Rosalie asks if Miles has been acting improperly, offering her husband’s help, or her own, if necessary; Ekaterin says she’ll keep it in mind, privately vowing to keep her as far away from Miles as possible.

In the shower–a cold one–she wrestles with her physical attraction to Miles.  She wonders if her tastes are becoming too strange, but she refuses to outright suppress her libido, since she doesn’t have Tien to worry about any more.  She’s not sure why Miles seems to like her, but she resolves to keep things businesslike, and not spend too much time with him after she finished the garden.  Turning the heat back up, she wonders if she can make him a dream lover; it’s somewhat reprehensible, but she doesn’t find the prospect of Miles doing the same with her to be too horrifying.  She considers actually taking a lover, but wonders how she could dare, and doesn’t want to risk getting sucked into another bog like her marriage to Tien.  She turns down the temperature again, telling herself sternly that Miles is not Tien, and he only wants her to make a garden.  She tells herself these thoughts are crazy, and hopes it’s just a spike in her hormones.

She might not even see him that day, or at least not have to talk to him before the dinner party, which promises to be crowded enough that there will be plenty of other people to talk to.  She should be able to handle it by then.

Ivan is working in his mother’s office at the Imperial Residence, full of Vor women–but mostly middle-aged ones, alas, and luckily he hadn’t had any bad relationships with any of their daughters…  Dono and By Vorrutyer stop in to visit with him before their audience with the Emperor, escorted by Gregor’s major-domo.  Dono asks after Ivan’s mother, but she’s out dealing with florists; Dono says he will have to meet with her, but Ivan privately hopes he’s not around when that happens.

“Ready, gentlemen?” said the major-domo.

“Good luck, Dono,” said Ivan, and prepared to retreat.

“Yes,” said By, “good luck. I’ll just stay here and chat with Ivan till you’re done, shall I?”

“My list,” said the major-domo, “has all of you on it. Vorrutyer, Lord Vorrutyer, Lord Vorpatril, Armsman Szabo.”

“Oh, that’s an error,” said Ivan helpfully. “Only Lord Dono actually needs to see Gregor.” By nodded confirmation.

“The list,” said the major-domo, “is in the Emperor’s own hand. This way, please.”

The major-domo doesn’t seem surprised by Lord Dono’s identity, so Ivan surmises that Gregor is already up to speed on that issue, alas.  He leads the group down to Gregor’s office and Gregor summons them inside.  Lord Dono thanks him for seeing them on short notice; Gregor gives By an odd look, and asks them to be seated, even Armsman Szabo.

Gregor asks whose idea the scheme was; Dono says it was his, adding that his brother had expressed many times, in hearing of the household, how little he wanted Richars to inherit, and so he’s carrying out Pierre’s posthumous will.  Gregor asks what help he secured for himself before he left, and Dono said he brought Pierre’s Armsmen into the scheme–not taking their Armsmans’ oaths himself, which would be a serious crime, but just their personal word.  Apart from them, he’d only informed Byerly, and, of necessity, his lawyer.  By was to keep an eye on Richars while Dono was offplanet and out of commission.  Gregor compliments By on his loyalty and discretion; By said that it seemed to be a personal matter.

Dono asks if ImpSec had passed on his medical files from Beta Colony yet, and Gregor says they had; Dono said he had told the Betans not to give them to ImpSec, but he had no doubt that, even after Simon Illyan’s retirement, ImpSec was up to the challenge.  He asks Gregor to note that he is a fully functional male, capable of carrying on the line, and claims the right to the Countship of Vorrutyer’s District, with the stated approval of the prior Count; he also asserts the proof of his skill in running the District for Pierre.  Gregor asks if he’s bringing any other charges against Richars; Dono says they don’t have enough proof in the one serious matter, the lightflyer accident, and Gregor says that ImpSec agrees.  Dono says he won’t be pushing for Richars to be declared unfit, merely for he himself to be seen as more fit.  He hopes for votes from Richars’s enemies, if no one else, but notes that he would plan to join the Progressive party–unlike the Vorrutyers’ traditional stance–which Gregor approves of.

Gregor says that he doesn’t have much leverage with the Council of Counts right now, since he’s trying to convince them to fund the Komarran soletta repairs; Dono says all he expects of Gregor is to let the case proceed, with a public debate and vote.  Gregor says he’s not keen on the precedent that Dono is trying to set; Dono points out that anyone could have done it for some time now, but he expects that it won’t become that popular, except in extreme cases like his.  He adds that it’s time that the Counts realized they have to take galactic technology into account in their legal system.

Gregor looked Lord Dono over, and pressed his hand to the bridge of his nose, briefly. After a moment he said ironically, “And will you be wanting a wedding invitation too?”

Dono’s brows flicked up. “If I am Count Vorrutyer by then, my attendance will be both my right and my duty. If I’m not—well, then.” After a slight silence, he added wistfully, “Though I always did like a good wedding. I had three. Two were disasters. It’s so much nicer to watch, saying over and over to yourself, It’s not me! It’s not me! One can be happy all day afterward on that alone.”

Gregor said dryly, “Perhaps your next one will be different.”

Dono’s chin lifted. “Almost certainly, Sire.”

Gregor is quiet for a minute, then asks Dono what it’s like.  Dono says that his energy and libido are up, and he feels better than he did ten years ago.  Also, starting on Komarr, and most noticeably on Barrayar itself, he gets more personal space and faster responses from others.  Gregor asks if he’s likely to change back, if this doesn’t work, and Dono says he’s enjoying being top of the food chain.  Eventually–and to Ivan’s dismay–Gregor says “Let’s see what happens,” and dismisses them.

By said that went better than he had expected, explaining that he was feeling out of his depth.  Dono thanks Ivan for his help, but Ivan denies having really done anything.  In fact, Gregor hadn’t even asked him anything at the meeting.
Dono asks again after Ivan’s mother; Ivan says she’s very, very busy at work, but Dono says he’d rather see her in a more social setting.  Ivan mentions the dinner party, explaining that he had been intending to bring Lady Donna as his guest; Dono says that he accepts.  Ivan protests that this will mess up Miles’s seating arrangements, though Dono says he doubts that, with all the Koudelka sisters attending.  Ivan explains that the real purpose is to introduce people to his gardener, Ekaterin Vorsoisson, who he seems to have fallen in love with.

Ivan mentions that the Vorbrettens will be there, and Dono is interested in René as an in with the Progressives, though Ivan tells him that since the Cetagandan connection came up he hasn’t been very popular.  Dono dismisses this, and says they definitely need to compare notes.  Ivan isn’t sure that Miles will be too happy with him for bringing Dono to the party…but supposes that Dono might make a nice target to protect Ivan from Miles’s wrath on other matters, like Vormoncrief and Zamori.  Not to mention that Miles would undoubtedly also make a great resource, in Lord Dono’s eyes, so maybe they’ll take care of each other and Ivan will be able to get out from between them.  Pretending reluctance, he agrees to take Lord Dono to the party.

Comments

I often think of the scene with Rosalie conveying the marriage proposal–and Ekaterin immediately leaping to the conclusion that it’s from Miles–to be almost the first time that she begins to seriously consider Miles.  There were a few moments before, I suppose–the flirtation at the end of Komarr, and the surge of sensuality that struck her at the odour of his closet–but she’s mostly been denying them.  She does have seriously mixed feelings at the prospect of a proposal from Miles, though, not least because she begins to see his actual plan, to hire her for the garden at least partly as a pretext.  So if Miles had actually been sending a proposal, the thought that he’d been deceiving her might have led her to refuse him.  But now, both the concept of Miles as a suitor, and the idea that the garden plan is a subterfuge on his part, are in her mind.

The shower scene is quite interesting, as she wrestles with her sexuality.  In Komarr we already knew that her sexual fantasies were getting a bit weird, mostly out of a desire to deal with her growing repulsion for Tien; does this, in any way, explain her physical interest in Miles?  I mean, not all women find him repulsive, but many (like Rosalie) seem to, though admittedly not all of those have actually met him.  Nonetheless, she doesn’t seem to conceive that Miles may also feel attracted to her–though that may just be because she’s trying to keep herself from thinking about the possible garden scam.  She does briefly consider taking a lover–it’s not clear if she’s considering Miles for the role or not, but she doesn’t have any other immediate prospects, so probably–but she’s still too gun-shy to risk even the chance of relinquishing her heart and getting trapped again.  So she determines to keep it inside, though she reserves the right to perhaps incorporate Miles into her personal fantasies from here on.

I don’t normally get too explicit with the spoilers here, especially with things are intentionally being kept as surprises, but I do want to discuss the implications of the the Vorrutyers’ meeting with Gregor in the light of the fact that Byerly Vorrutyer is later revealed to actually be working for ImpSec.  Obviously he’s the pipeline for Gregor being informed about what happened to Lady Donna…but when?  In this scene, I’m getting the impression that he may have actually kept that little fact to himself, until his hand was forced by Ivan scheduling the meeting with Gregor.  Gregor and By’s interactions in the meeting imply that Gregor is aware that By is working for ImpSec, and is asking him to account for his unwonted closed-mouthedness on the matter.  And By claims it was “a personal matter”.  I’m not sure that Gregor buys that one; some family loyalty is laudable, I suppose, but an ImpSec agent shouldn’t let that sway him.  After all, what if Dono/Donna were plotting against the Emperor?  Would By have forebore to mention that?  Of course, I guess that By’s loyalty is a little more selective, since he’s all too willing to betray Richars, so maybe the Emperor (and By’s boss–who is in charge of Domestic Affairs at ImpSec these days?) will judge things to have turned out okay.


No blog next Wednesday, but hopefully one sometime between than and New Year’s.  It is, of course, time for the dinner party.  The infamous dinner party.  I still remember, first time through, how much I was looking forward to it, all these characters getting together in one place.  Such interesting conversations and meetings we would have!  Yeah, I still remember that.  But now, I know better.  Sometime before the end of the year, then, with any luck…

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Sisyphus finally pushes his boulder to the top of the mountain, only to have gravity yank it from his grasp and send it rolling down the other side.  In unrelated news, welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where due to Christmas concerts and other such vagaries, this is going to be another single-chapter week, despite my best intentions.  So prepare yourself for another chapter from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, in this case Chapter Seven of A Civil Campaign, where we get to see Mark Vorkosigan lead a field trip, and Ivan meet a friend at the spaceport and reluctantly make a call on their behalf.

Chapter Seven

Mark flies over Vorkosigan’s District in Miles’s lightflyer, enjoying the fine weather and the fact that the controls are at the right height, even if the seat’s a bit narrow.  He banks to show off the landscape better to Kareen and Ekaterin in the back seat, and Ekaterin does indeed admire the countryside aloud.  Enrique admits that he’d expected something more drab, concrete and marching soldiers in uniform.

“Economically unlikely for an entire planetary surface. Though uniforms, we do have,” Mark admitted.

“But once it gets up to several hundred different kinds, the effect isn’t so uniform anymore. And some of the colors are a little . . . unexpected.”

“Yes, I feel sorry for those Counts who ended up having to pick their House colors last,” Mark agreed. “I think the Vorkosigans must have fallen somewhere in the middle. I mean, brown and silver isn’t bad, but I can’t help feeling that the fellows with the blue and gold—or the black and silver—do have a sartorial edge.” He could fancy himself in black and silver, with Kareen all blond and tall on his arm.

“It could be worse,” Kareen put in cheerfully. “How do you think you’d look in a House cadet’s uniform of chartreuse and scarlet, like poor Vorharopulos, Mark?”

“Like a traffic signal in boots.”

Ekaterin tells Enrique that the South Continent area where she grew up was very flat, despite mountains just over the horizon, but she says it was very spacious, and had tremendous sunrises and sunsets.

Mark flies them over Hassadar, where they set down on top of the Count’s Residence, just off the city’s central square.  Tsipis is waiting there to greet them; he flies them in turn over to check out three possible sites for the facility–one of them a city warehouse, and the other two farms belonging to families who had emigrated to Sergyar.  All are owned by the Vorkosigans outright, and Tsipis says that Mark may be able to get Miles to forgo the rent; Mark isn’t sure about asking Miles for the favour, but he reminds himself that he is also a Vorkosigan.  He and Kareen discuss the possible choices, while Ekaterin shows Enrique some of the native plants.  At last they decide on the farm with the newer and more spacious outbuildings, and Tsipis takes them back to Hassadar for lunch.

The lunch spread is luxurious, and Mark suspects Miles had left instructions to that effect for Ekaterin’s benefit.  Later, while the others are inspecting the gardens, Tsipis asks Mark about Madame Vorsoisson; Miles has been holding forth about her, at length.  Mark says it’s hilarious, and yet also scary.  Tsipis agrees, saying that Miles was never afraid of physical pain, but emotional rejection can drive him crazy.  He relates an incident where, after one such rejection, Miles had a riding accident, riding a horse he’d been forbidden to ride, and they wondered how much of an accident it really was.

Tsipis says he’s surprised Miles is interested in a Barrayaran, rather than a galactic, and wonders if he’s setting himself up for a fall.  Mark says that Miles has a Plan, and asks Tsipis what he thinks of her; Tsipis declares Ekaterin honest, and a quick study, which is high praise from him, attractive enough, and well-qualified for the job of Countess.  He says it’s not before time, in any case, and hopes for the Count to have some grandchildren in his lifetime.

“You will keep an eye on things, won’t you?” Tsipis added.

“I don’t know what you think I could do. It’s not like I could make her fall in love with him. If I had that kind of power over women, I’d use it for myself!”

Tsipis smiled vaguely at the place Kareen had vacated, and back, speculatively, to Mark. “What, and here I was under the impression you had.”

He asks if Mark has seen any signs that Ekaterin returns Miles’s affection, and Mark says that she is very reserved.  He says he’ll ask Kareen, since girls often discuss these things among themselves.  Tsipis, who considers Kareen part of the family, asks assurances that Mark will treat her well, and Mark agrees fervently.  Even the Black Gang are behind him.  He’d be willing to follow Kareen around hoping for a crumb of her affection, but his therapist has admonished him from putting that kind of pressure on her.  Of course, his therapist likes Kareen, because everyone likes her, because she likes them; she has virtue to spare, and she’d do wonders in sales.  He can’t bear the idea of losing her.

Once the others return, Kareen chivvies them off to gather rocks for Ekaterin’s garden; Tsipis sends two burly young men with a van to follow them and do the actual lifting.  Mark heads them into the Dendarii mountains, to a vale still largely populated by native plantlife.  Ekaterin steps out and, looking out over the valley below them, exults in the feeling of spaciousness, which she says she normally doesn’t find in hill country.  She leads the young men to hunt for rocks, Enrique following after; Mark stays behind to cuddle with Kareen.

When Mark ventures a sexual suggestion into his cuddle, Kareen pulls away; she apologizes, and says that being back on Barrayar is making her feel less like her own person and more conscious how dependent on her family she really is.

He clutched her hand; that at least he might not let go of. “You want to be good. All right, I can understand that. But you have to be careful who you let define your good. My terrorist creators taught me that one, for damn sure.”

She clutched him back, at that feared memory, and managed a sympathetic grimace. She hesitated, and went on, “It’s the mutually exclusive definitions that are driving me crazy. I can’t be good for both places at the same time. I learned how to be a good girl on Beta Colony, and in its own way, it was just as hard as being a good girl here. And a lot scarier, sometimes. But . . . I felt like I was getting bigger inside, if you can see what I mean.”

Mark says she has to be sure to choose Kareen’s good, not Barrayar’s or Beta Colony’s; Kareen says she can’t even seem to find herself to ask what that would be.  She says she wants to stay on Beta Colony until she can become as strong a person as Countess Vorkosigan.  Mark hugs her reassuringly, hoping that when she finds herself, there’s still room for him in her life.

He changes the subject to Ekaterin, and asks Kareen if she seems to like Miles back.  She says she can’t tell; Ekaterin is working hard on his garden, but they’re still not on a first-name basis.  Mark says Tsipis wants some reassurance about Miles, and Kareen says she’d like to be friends with Ekaterin, since she doesn’t seem to have many friends, and she’s still very quiet about what happened to her on Komarr.  He asks if she’d be good for Miles, and Kareen asks if anyone’s thought about whether Miles would be good for her.

“Um . . . um . . . why not? Count’s heir. Well-to-do. An Imperial Auditor, for God’s sake. What more could a Vor desire?”

“I don’t know, Mark. It likely depends on the Vor. I do know I’d take you and every one of the Black Gang at their most obstreperous for a hundred years before I’d let myself get locked up for a week with Miles. He . . . takes you over.”

“Only if you let him.” But he warmed inside with the thought that she could really, truly prefer him to the glorious Miles, and suddenly felt less hungry.

“Do you have any idea what it takes to stop him? I still remember being kids, me and my sisters, visiting Lady Cordelia with Mama, and Miles told off to keep us occupied. Which was a really cruel thing to do to a fourteen-year-old boy, but what did I know? He decided the four of us should be an all-girl precision drill team, and made us march around in the back garden of Vorkosigan House, or in the ballroom when it was raining. I think I was four.” She frowned into the past. “What Miles needs is a woman who will tell him to go soak his head, or it’ll be a disaster. For her, not him.” After a moment, she added sapiently, “Though if for her, for him too, sooner or later.”

The young men return for their van and load up the rocks that Ekaterin had picked out.  Enrique returns, looking cheerful, if wet from falling in the creek, and carrying a huge bundle of Barrayaran plant samples.  They load back up in the lightflyer and Mark flies them back to Vorbarr Sultana.  They drop off Ekaterin and Kareen, and Mark and Enrique return to Vorkosigan House, where Ekaterin has promise to return the next day to help Enrique classify his samples.  Mark discovers that Ekaterin has also expressed interest in Enrique’s doctoral thesis, Toward Bacterial and Fungal Suite-Synthesis of Extra-cellular Energy Storage Compounds.  He decides it could use some spicing up, and keeps asking Mark for rhymes so he can rewrite the abstract as a sonnet.  Mark wonders if Enrique is now thinking that he has a chance to woo Ekaterin.  He resolves to move the business out of Vorkosigan House as soon as possible.

Ivan and By Vorrutyer wait in the Vorbarr Sultana shuttleport for the returning Lady Donna; Ivan has a bouquet, hoping to strike the right tone with her right off the bat, though By seems amused by it.  He’ll offer to carry her luggage, he decides, except perhaps for any uterine replicators she happens to have brought back from Beta with her.  At least, if she is trying the clone ploy, he won’t have to get involved in the political end of it.

By points out an approaching group of three men.  One of them Ivan recognizes as Szabo, one of the late Count Pierre’s armsmen, and there’s another Vorrutyer guardsman on the other side.

The man in the center Ivan had never seen before. He was an athletic-looking fellow of middle height, more lithe than muscular, though his shoulders filled his civilian tunic quite well. He was soberly dressed in black, with the barest pale gray piping making salute to the Barrayaran style of pseudo-military ornamentation in men’s wear. The subtle clothes set off his lean good looks: pale skin, thick dark brows, close-cropped black hair, and trim, glossy black beard and mustache. His step was energetic. His eyes were an electric brown, and seemed to dart all around as if seeing the place for the first time, and liking what they saw.

Ivan wonders who this is–a Betan paramour?  Count Pierre’s secret love child?  He does look like a Vorrutyer…  By says that they need no introduction, but Ivan says they do; the man introduces himself as Lord Dono Vorrutyer.  Ivan finally recognizes the eyes–as Lady Donna’s.  After all, on Beta Colony, if you can can afford it and convince them you’re an adult, you can get them to do anything you want…such as, in this case, a sex change.  Donna/Dono insists that he/she will be Count Vorrutyer, once he can get the Council of Counts on board.  He/she teases Ivan with the bouquet until Szabo asks him/her not to do that in public.  Dono promises to be good.  By suggests they continue the conversation in private, and directs them to the waiting groundcar; Ivan tries to excuse himself, but By and Dono insist that Ivan come with them.

Dono says he got rid of Lady Donna’s luggage on Beta Colony, living out of one suitcase like his armsmen do.  Ivan asked if the Armsmen are all in on it; Dono says that he and Szabo swore them all in after Pierre died, when they presented the plan.  Lady Donna had been running the District quite well, and none of them has the slightest affection for Richards.  Dono says that Richars had tried to rape her when she was twelve, and then drowned her new puppy, blaming it on her; only By had believed her then.  Szabo said that Richars has counted the District as his since Pierre started getting ill, and had been deliberately trying to erode his health since then.  He’d also sabotaged Pierre’s attempts at courtship, though they haven’t proven he actually caused the flyer wreck that killed one of them.  So the Armsmen all concluded that they wouldn’t last in Richars’s service.

Pierre had refused to make a will, not wanting to officially declare Richars, or any of Richars’s brothers or sons, as his heir.  He’d been holding out hope still for a son of his own up to the time of his death.  Ivan wonders if Dono can expect to be heir, since she wasn’t his brother at the time of his death; Dono says that without a sworn heir, his sex won’t matter until they appear before the Council of Counts itself, when he will demonstrably be Pierre’s brother.

Ivan asks what happened to Donna’s female parts; Dono says he dumped them back on Beta, not particularly feeling a need to go back, though he says he could always clone new organs if he ever wanted to.  Ivan asks where Dono’s male parts came from; Dono says the Y chromosome came from Pierre, and they used tissue samples from him to grow his male genitalia.  He admits most of his chromosomes are still XX; the full gene therapy would have taken too long, and risked ending up as some kind of odd chimera or mosaic, but his genitalia is all XY.  For the Council of Counts, though, he needs Ivan.

They pull into Vorrutyer House, an old, fortress-like house built with gun-slits at ground level by Count Pierre “Le Sanguinaire” Vorrutyer, trusted aide and enforcer to Emperor Dorca Vorbarra near the end of the Time of Isolation.  That Pierre was killed in the Cetagandan invasion, though one of his daughters married into the Vorkosigans, which is why Mark’s middle name was “Pierre”.  Dono leads them into the house, which seems to have been entirely abandoned since Count Pierre left for his District months ago.  Dono claims the Count’s old bedroom, though with fresh sheets, and tells Szabo to get the place cleaned up as soon as possible; Ivan recommends the cleaning firm the Vorkosigans use.

By tells them that Richars tried to take possession of the house twice; the first time, Dono’s Armsmen kept him out, and the second time, they had a legal order, which By was luckily able to trump.  Szabo critiques Dono’s sitting position, saying that rather than emulate By, he should go for a more dominating model, like Aral Vorkosigan.  Dono goes rooting in Pierre’s closet, saying that he shouldn’t be too far off fitting Pierre’s clothing, asking Szabo to get a tailor.  Dono begins undressing, and Ivan tries to excuse himself again, but Szabo insists he stay.

“Sit down, Ivan,” Lord Dono growled. His burning eyes suddenly crinkled, and he murmured, “For old time’s sake, if nothing else. You used to run into my bedroom to watch me undress, not out of it. Must I lock the door and make you play hunt the key again?”

Ivan opened his mouth, raised a furious admonishing finger in protest, thought better of it, and sank to a seat on the edge of the bed. You wouldn’t dare seemed suddenly a really unwise thing to say to the former Lady Donna Vorrutyer. He crossed his ankles, then hastily uncrossed them again and set his feet apart, then crossed them again, and twined his hands together in vast discomfort. “I don’t see what you need me for,” he said plaintively.

“So you can witness,” said Szabo.

“So you can testify,” said Dono.

Dono strips completely naked, and asks Ivan’s opinion.  Ivan reluctantly inspects Dono’s equipment, and admits that it looks normal; By agrees, but points out it’s a bit undersized as yet.  Dono says that he was in a rush, but the Betans insist it will finish growing in situ.  It hasn’t reached full sexual maturity yet, but he’s looking forward to it.  Ivan wonders how Dono’s going to learn sex from the other side, and Dono says that that’s one thing he’s not worried about; he taught Ivan, after all.

Ivan asks Dono if he’s let Gregor in on this yet; Dono says they hadn’t, figuring it was easier to get forgiveness than permission.

Ivan clutched his hair. “All right. You two—you three—dragged me up here because you claimed you wanted my help. I’m going to hand you a hint. Free.” He took a deep breath. “You can blindside me, and laugh your heads off if you want to. It won’t be the first time I’ve been the butt. You can blindside Richars with my good will. You can blindside the whole Council of Counts. Blindside my cousin Miles—please. I want to watch. But do not, if you value your chances, if you mean this to be anything other than a big, short joke, do not blindside Gregor.”

Byerly grimaced uncertainly; Dono, turning before the mirror, shot Ivan a penetrating look. “Go to him, you mean?”

“Yes. I can’t make you,” Ivan went on sternly, “but if you don’t, I categorically refuse to have anything more to do with you.”

“Gregor can kill it all with a word,” said Dono warily. “Before it even launches.”

“He can,” said Ivan, “but he won’t, without strong motivation. Don’t give him that motivation. Gregor does not like political surprises.”

“I thought Gregor was fairly easy-going,” said By, “for an emperor.”

“No,” said Ivan firmly. “He is not. He is merely rather quiet. It’s not the same thing at all. You don’t want to see what he’s like pissed.”

“What does he look like, pissed?” asked By curiously.

“Identical to what he looks like the rest of the time. That’s the scary part.”

Dono says that By was the one who’d brought Ivan in on this, because of his connections, so they should listen to Ivan’s advice on the matter.  He asks Ivan what they should do, and Ivan says they should arrange a meeting with Gregor before doing anything else, talking to anyone else.  He asks Dono if he ever slept with Gregor, and he confesses he did not.  Ivan says that if Gregor won’t approve it, then it’ll be over quickly, but if he does, then they’ll have a matchless silent backer.  Dono asks if Ivan can get them an appointment, as soon as possible, the next morning; Ivan mumbles that he’ll see what he can do.  With that, at last they let him go; Dono even send him home by groundcar, unfortunately depriving Ivan of the opportunity to get murdered on the way and get out of this affair for good.

Back in his apartment, Ivan mourns the loss of Lady Donna–the last thing Barrayar needs is another man, after all–though he supposes that maybe they can send the excess Vor males off to Beta to get reshaped the other way.  Reluctantly, he digs out his private contact-card and inserts it into his comconsole.  Gregor’s “gatekeeper” identifies Ivan immediately, and asks if he really meant to call this channel.

He is shortly put through to Gregor, with a blurry Laisa in the background straightening her clothing.  Gregor is initially annoyed to see that it’s Ivan, and not Miles, contacting him, and then asks why Ivan is contacting him.  Ivan tells him that “Lady Donna” is back onplanet, and Gregor needs to meet with “her” as soon as possible.  Gregor warns Ivan that he better not be just calling in some sexual favour; Ivan insists he wanted nothing to do with it, which intrigues the Emperor, and he fits them in at 11:00 the next morning, frowning in puzzlement.

Comments

Another talky chapter, and not from our two romantic principals.  Most of the plotlines get advanced a little–Mark and Kareen, Mark and Enrique, Ekaterin and the garden (if not, directly, Ekaterin and Miles), and then the Ivan and By and, apparently, Lord Dono Vorrutyer.  The little field trip to the Vorkosigan District doesn’t advance anything too far, but it does introduce Enrique to the list of potential Ekaterin suitors.  You know, Mark goes on about how everybody likes Kareen, and she likes everybody, and it seems like everyone likes Ekaterin, too.  They’re just a likable pair of women, I guess.

You know, if the only possible way to keep your scumbag rapist cousin from becoming a Count is to go off to another planet to get a sex change…then maybe there’s something wrong with your system.  And Barrayar is progressing in a lot of ways, but I don’t get a sense that sexual equality, in particular in the Countships, is that close to the offing.  Maybe they just need to take a few tips from the Cetagandans and seize power in their own sphere…  Yeah, I don’t know what that would mean either…though I recall Cordelia having some observations on women’s power back in Barrayar.  So maybe the Countships are, or should be, less relevant.

I love the whole bit with Ivan calling Gregor, though.  Nobody is taking him seriously–questioning whether he meant to make the call, questioning his motives for doing this…  Ivan’s got almost as much of a “town clown” reputation as By Vorrutyer, though I guess it’s more that his goals have been negative–to not get involved in politics, to not get stuck under his mother’s thumb–so it’s odd to see him actually trying to do something.  But this plotline here is why we were all cheering for Ivan to get his own book…

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I do almost wish I’d had time to do the next chapter too, since it follows on directly with the interview with Gregor, but alas, lack of time and gumption.  Next week, I promise, you will…get at least that chapter, if nothing else.  And after that is Christmas, which I may give myself off…though I should try to get another post or two in over the holidays regardless.  For this week, though, I am signing off.

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Scintillate, scintillate, globule aurific; fain would I fathom thy nature specific.  Sesquipedalian version of a child’s nursery rhyme?  Or a contrived introduction to another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread?  You decide.  In the meantime…um, well, here’s another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  This week I managed to cover two full chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign, her SF/romance hybrid where her regular protagonist Miles Vorkosigan is joined by a capable supporting cast, including Ekaterin Vorsoisson, the woman he’s secretly (from her, at least) in love with…

Chapter Five

Ekaterin arrives at Vorkosigan House with a question for Miles, which she tells Pym isn’t urgent; Pym goes off to fetch him, though Ekaterin realizes that he may still be asleep.  She heads up to the library to wait for him, and is startled to find it occupied, by a man who she immediately realizes must be Miles’s clone-brother Mark; she notices the resemblances immediately, despite his barrier of flesh.  He doesn’t seem annoyed at her presence, and she introduces herself, calling herself Miles’s “landscape consultant”.

She says that they’re taking down an old maple tree, and wants to know what Miles wants with done with the remains.  Mark immediately says that if it’s “Earth-descended organic matter”, he’ll take anything of it that Miles doesn’t want, though he doesn’t say why, telling her that he doesn’t garden.

The decidedly disjointed conversation was interrupted by a booted tread, and Armsman Pym leaning around the doorframe to announce, “M’lord will be down in a few minutes, Madame Vorsoisson. He says, please don’t go away.” He added in a more confiding tone, “He had one of his seizures last night, so he’s a little slow this morning.”

“Oh, dear. And they give him such a headache. I shouldn’t trouble him till he’s had his painkillers and black coffee.” She turned for the door.

“No, no! Sit down, madame, sit, please. M’lord would be right upset with me if I botched his orders.” Pym, smiling anxiously, motioned her urgently toward a chair; reluctantly, she sat. “There now. Good. Don’t move.” He watched her a moment as if to make sure she wasn’t going to bolt, then hurried off again. Lord Mark stared after him.

Mark says that he’d thought that Miles’s seizures were practically cured; Ekaterin says that they’re more “controlled”, and she’s seen one of them herself.  At Mark’s prodding, she says that it was on Komarr, during his recent Auditorial case.  She mentions the device he uses to trigger them, though she wonders if the one he’d just suffered had been manually triggered or if he’d waited too long, and says she heard it was from cryo-revival damage.  Mark tells her that Miles got killed trying to save Mark, and Ekaterin says she Miles hasn’t told her much of his prior career in impSec.

Miles emerges shortly thereafter, freshly washed and smartly dressed, but otherwise looking like death warmed over; Ekaterin tells him that he shouldn’t have gotten up.  Pym arrives with coffee and breakfast, and after taking a few sips, Miles regains language ability and greets Ekaterin properly.  He notes that she’s up early, and she forebears to contradict him; she says that she was eager to get started.  Her hired crew is out gathering up the sod and topsoil, and preparing to transplant the oak, and she asks him what to do with the maple.  Miles says they want it for firewood, and they have a pile to store it for household use and Winterfair bonfires.  Mark says he’ll take the leaves and clippings for Enrique’s project, and Miles says that’s up to their “eight thousand little friends”.

Ekaterin, deciding to stay a little longer so as not to have gotten Miles out of bed for nothing, says they should be able to start excavating tomorrow; she has secured all the necessary permits, and learned more than she wanted to about Vorbarr Sultana infrastructure in the process.  Miles agrees that it’s old and strange, and says she should ask Drou about the time she and Cordelia escaped through the sewers with Vordarian’s head.  He says the dinner party is scheduled for a week tomorrow, which works for her as well.

Miles says he just got back from a bizarre Auditorial errand Gregor sent him on, mostly because of his Betan background.  He tells Mark that their father had put in place legislation making it easier for ordinary Barrayarans to move from one district to another, changing their fealty to another Count; the result has been that people have been voting with their feet, and some Districts have been hemorrhaging population as a result.  The Vorkosigan District is holding steady, losing people to Vorbarr Sultana and Sergyar but gaining people with the up-to-date educational and medical facilities in Hassadar.  A certain Count Vormuir, however, has been losing steadily.

Ekaterin listens, entranced, as Miles outlines Vormuir’s novel solution to the problem.  He bought thirty uterine replicators and began to populate them.  With daughters, the oldest of which is two years old.  Count Vormuir himself is the father, but his wife will have none of the affair, and has moved out, refusing him conjugal visits under the threat of plasma arc.  The eggs have been surplus backups, which would otherwise have been discarded, from the District’s own replicator crèche, which Vormuir claims doesn’t violate any Barrayaran law.  By now he has 92 daughters, plus another batch of thirty in the replicators; Miles has ordered him not to start any more, which he wouldn’t be able to do for seven months anyway.

Mark says there should be a law against this, and Miles agrees, but they have to take some time and figure out what kind of law first, studying how other planets are dealing with it.  Even so, Vormuir won’t be affected by the new law.  There’s no rape involved, the children are well taken care of, they’re all his own daughters and so not legally slaves, and the eggs haven’t technically been stolen.  Ekaterin says that the girls should technically belong to their mothers, but Miles says that he’s not sure that applies if Vormuir never married any of them; in any event, he expects few of the mothers would want them, and if they did, they’d still be new population for Vormuir’s District.

Ekaterin’s brows drew down in thought. “By your account, Vormuir is much taken with economies, of scale and otherwise.” Only long after Nikki’s birth had she wondered if Tien had pushed for the old-fashioned way because it had seemed much cheaper. We won’t have to wait until we can afford it had been a potent argument, in her eager ears. Vormuir’s motivation seemed as much economic as genetic: ultimately, wealth for his District and therefore for him. This techno-harem was intended to become future taxpayers, along with the husbands he no doubt assumed they would draw in, to support him in his old age. “In effect, the girls are the Count’s acknowledged bastards. I’m sure I read somewhere . . . in the Time of Isolation, weren’t Imperial and count-palatine female bastards entitled to a dowry, from their high-born father? And it required some sort of Imperial permission . . . the dowry almost was the sign of legal acknowledgment. I’ll bet the Professora would know all the historical details, including the cases where the dowries had to be dragged out by force. Isn’t an Imperial permission effectively an Imperial order? Couldn’t Emperor Gregor set Count Vormuir’s dowries for the girls . . . high?”

“Oh.” Lord Vorkosigan sat back, his eyes widening with delight. “Ah.” An evil grin leaked between his lips. “Arbitrarily high, in fact. Oh . . . my.” He looked across at her. “Madame Vorsoisson, I believe you have hit on a possible solution. I will certainly pass the idea along as soon as I may.”

Ekaterin is gratified at his approval of her suggestion, and hopes she’s helped him feel better about his morning.  She checks the time, and exclaims that she needs to be outside to meet the tree-removal crew.  Pym and Miles escort her to the front door, and Miles encourages her to stop in again, telling Pym to show her where to put the maple wood.

Ekaterin glanced back over her shoulder. “He didn’t look very well this morning, Pym. You really shouldn’t have let him get out of bed.”

“Oh, I know it, ma’am,” Pym agreed morosely. “But what’s a mere Armsman to do? I haven’t the authority to countermand his orders. What he really needs, is looking after by someone who won’t stand his nonsense. A proper Lady Vorkosigan would do the trick. Not one of those shy, simpering ingenues all the young lords seem to be looking to these days, he’d just ride right over her. He needs a woman of experience, to stand up to him.” He smiled apologetically down at her.

“I suppose so,” sighed Ekaterin. She hadn’t really thought about the Vor mating scene from the Armsmen’s point of view. Was Pym hinting that his lord had such an ingenue in his eye, and his staff was worried it was some sort of mismatch?

Ekaterin gets to thinking about this possible ingenue, supposing that Miles will probably need to look to the younger generation for potential brides these days.  He’ll probably have to settle for an intellectual light-weight, and hope for one who won’t snub him for his physical defects.  She’s surprised to find herself indignant at the image of this idiot girl turning up her nose at Miles, and firmly turns herself back to the prospect of tree demolition.

Inside, Miles returns to the library, sitting down with care and resuming his breakfast.  He tells Mark he thought the conversation went well, and asks what they talked about before he arrived.  Mark says they discussed his seizures, and scolds Miles for not giving him all the information on them.  Miles says Mark couldn’t do anything about them anyway, and while Mark still blames himself, Miles says it was the Jacksonian sniper who did the damage, after all.
Miles asks what Mark thinks of Ekaterin, as a possible Lady Vorkosigan.

Mark blinked. “What?”

“What do you mean, what? She’s beautiful, she’s smart—dowries, ye gods, how perfect, Vormuir will split—she’s incredibly level-headed in emergencies. Calm, y’know? A lovely calm. I adore her calm. I could swim in it. Guts and wit, in one package.”

“I wasn’t questioning her fitness. That was a merely a random noise of surprise.”

“She’s Lord Auditor Vorthys’s niece. She has a son, Nikki, almost ten. Cute kid. Wants to be a jump-pilot, and I think he has the determination to make it. Ekaterin wants to be a garden designer, but I think she could go on to be a terraformer. She’s a little too quiet, sometimes—she needs to build up her self-confidence.”

“Perhaps she was just waiting to get a word in edgewise,” Mark suggested.

Mark contemplates Ekaterin; he supposes that she might appeal to Miles, with his taste for “brainy brunettes”, though he himself preferred curvy blondes, like Kareen.  He’s glad he has Kareen, who’s making him more human just by being around him.  He tells himself that he can’t take her recent attack of nerves personally.  Killer whispers in his head that she’s probably found someone else, and he knows how to deal with problems like that; Mark shushes him.  Even if she had, her honesty would have led her to tell him about it already.  All Mark knows is that, if he had to choose, he’d rather have Kareen than oxygen.  He briefly considers talking to Miles on the issue, but he holds off, not sure that Miles wouldn’t lead the posse after Mark’s head.

Mark asks Miles if Ekaterin knows about Miles’s intentions; Miles says that it’s a tricky situation.  She’s recently widowed, and her husband died recently on Komarr, under circumstances that Miles can’t talk about, but was far too close to.  So she’s not ready to be courted, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping the onslaught of Vor bachelors, or the non-Vor either.  Miles’s plan is to get in under her radar as a friend, and then make his move when the time is ripe.

“And, ah, when are you planning to spring this stunning surprise on her?” Mark asked, fascinated.

Miles stared at his boots. “I don’t know. I’ll recognize the tactical moment when I see it, I suppose. If my sense of timing hasn’t totally deserted me. Penetrate the perimeter, set the trip lines, plant the suggestion—strike. Total victory! Maybe.”

He asks Mark not to spill the beans, and Mark says he won’t interfere; as a parting shot, he asks if Miles should really be planning his romantic life in terms of war, and leaves while he’s still sputtering.

Comments

Mark is, of course, perfectly right, as I’ve been saying and will continue to say.  It does make perfect sense in Miles terms, but unfortunately Ekaterin is less likely to think of it that way.  Plus, for someone trying to keep a secret, he keeps telling people about it.  Trying to ask their opinions, shore up his insecurity, but increase the probability that someone’s going to spill the beans.  And then he’s planning this dinner party, which keeps looming up throughout the book, which is going to be bringing basically everyone who knows about Miles’s intentions–and Ekaterin–into the same room.

Admittedly, Miles does seem to have some support.  Pym seems to be entirely in favour of the prospect, even if his broad hints seem to sail right over Ekaterin’s head.  Her Aunt Vorthys has also seemed fairly approving.  Ekaterin must be wilfully keeping herself from contemplating the possibility at all.  After all, if she had to regard Miles as someone trying to lure her back into the prison of marriage, she’d have to stop associating with him.  Not that there aren’t worse things he could do, of course…

I’d forgotten how quickly Ekaterin disposed of the Lord Vormuir problem.  It is a cunning plan–now I’m picturing Vormuir played by Rowan Atkinson as Blackadder (although, in my head, he looks more like Stephen Fry’s Melchett)–sailing through loopholes in Barrayaran law, but Ekaterin manages to point out a way that that law can be bent back upon him.  She obviously has some familiarity with Vor law and custom, perhaps through her aunt if nothing else, and puts her finger on the correct spot.  The situation does, though, sound like some awful movie, though since most of those don’t have uterine replicators, they tend to involve someone sneaking their sperm into the actual fertilized eggs that the husbands think are theirs.

Mark and Miles do seem to be settling into a standard sibling-type relationship, which is not, as Miles is finding out, as much about always being there for each other as it is about friendly rivalry and one-upmanship.  Mark twits Miles about his campaign for Ekaterin, Miles complains about the butter bugs, etc.  You’d think he’d have figured from Ivan what family is about, and now, like it or not, he and Mark are developing the same way.  After all, more than most, Mark has a lot of sibling-rivalry issues, as his Betan therapist has doubtless spotted, since his “older brother” was literally held up to him as an example of the way to act.  It’s probably good if all he’s trying to do about it these days is score “last words” and conversational coups against him.

Chapter Six

Kareen is working in the lab when a woman comes in looking for Mark, introducing herself as “Ekaterin Vorsoisson, the garden designer”; she’s come to offer Mark more compost, having removed an entire row of bushes.  Kareen asks Enrique, who says that if it’s Earth-descended organic matter, and free, they would like to try some.  Ekaterin looks around at the lab, which Kareen congratulates herself is looking more scientific and appealing, and more organized.  Kareen has also been building housing units for the bugs, and cleaning out the guano, which luckily hasn’t been as bad as she’d feared.

Ekaterin asks what they need the plant matter for, and Kareen invites her to come in and see for herself.  She says she’s the Head Bug Wrangler–and also the only one, so far.

Kareen unlatched the steel-screen top of one of the bug hutches, reached in, and retrieved a single worker-bug. She was getting quite good at handling the little beasties without wanting to puke by now, as long as she didn’t look too closely at their pale pulsing abdomens. Kareen held out the bug to the gardener, and began a tolerably close copy of Mark’s Better Butter Bugs for a Brighter Barrayar sales talk.

Though Madame Vorsoisson’s eyebrows went up, she didn’t shriek, faint, or run away at her first sight of a butter bug. She followed Kareen’s explanation with interest, and was even willing to hold the bug and feed it a maple leaf. There was something very bonding about feeding live things, Kareen had to admit; she would have to keep that ploy in mind for future presentations.

Ekaterin is intrigued at the prospect of butter bugs that eat native foliage, and allows that she does have some practical experience with it.  She asks to see the bug manure, and is impressed with the quality of it as fertilizer, reinforced by Enrique’s contributions on its exact chemical composition.  She asks to borrow some, and encourages them to try to sell it.  Enrique said nobody had been interested in it on Escobar, and Ekaterin tells him that on Barrayar it’s harder to come by good quality fertilizer when trying to terraform the soil.  She tells Enrique about a time when the Counts and the Emperors would quarrel over the distribution of horse manure.

Enrique asks Ekaterin if she can show them around some of the native vegetation; Ekaterin says they really need a District agronomy officer, and Enrique points out that he didn’t even know there was such a thing.  Ekaterin says that Tsipis could help them out, and Kareen agrees.  Ekaterin says she’s been planning to go to the Dendarii Mountains to gather rocks to line the stream bed, and Kareen agrees that Miles is very fond of the mountains.

Mark arrives with a load of lab supplies, greeting Ekaterin and thanking her for the maple clippings.  Mark persuades her to try the bug butter, and she agrees to a small taste.  Kareen opens a container for her, telling Mark that they’re going to need more containers, the rate the bugs are producing it–and the rate that nobody else in the house is eating it.  Ekaterin tries a spoonful, pronounces it “interesting”. then offers some helpful suggestions, like flavouring and freezing it.

“Hm. D’you think that would work, Enrique?”

“Don’t see why not,” responded the scientist. “The colloidal viscosity doesn’t break down when exposed to subzero temperatures. It’s thermal acceleration which alters the protein microstructure and hence texture.”

“Gets kind of rubbery when you cook it,” Mark translated this. “We’re working on it, though.”

Mark asks Kareen if she wants to come to the District with him and scout out sites for the future facility–though they can’t settle on the name (between Borgos Research Park, Mark Vorkosigan Enterprises, and Kareen’s Butter Bug Ranch).  Kareen mentions Ekaterin’s rocks, and showing Enrique the native flora, and suggests they all go down together; secretly she’s reluctant to spend time alone with Mark, even though that’s obviously what he’s angling for.  She arranges the trip for the day after tomorrow.

Miles dashes in then, saying that Armsman Jankowski only just told him that Ekaterin was here.  He says he hopes they haven’t fed her the “bug vomit” yet, but Ekaterin says stoutly that it’s not half bad, they just need to do some product development.  She picks up the fertilizer Kareen has packaged for her and says her farewells, until day after tomorrow; Miles escorts her out.  He returns a few minutes later complaining about their feeding “that stuff” to Ekaterin.  Mark says that Ekaterin, at least, has an open mind, and Enrique says that she seemed to understand him better than most people.

Miles asks what’s happening day after tomorrow, and Kareen tells him about the proposed trip to Vorkosigan District.  Miles protests that he had Ekaterin’s first tour of the District already planned out, and Mark, unsympathetic, says that they won’t be going too far afield, there’ll be plenty to show her later.  Miles tries to insist on going along, but Mark says he’s only got four seats, and he’d rather take Kareen than Miles.  Miles leaves, grumbling about Armsman Jankowski.

Kareen asks what his problem is, and Mark explains that Miles is in love with Ekaterin, which is why he hired her as a gardener after meeting her on Komarr, but he hasn’t told her yet.  Mark isn’t quite sure why, unless it’s sexual shyness; Kareen reminds him about Elli Quinn, and Mark postulates that most of Miles’s girlfriends have been more the forceful types, throwing themselves at him, and he doesn’t know how to actually court a woman who’s not.  Mark is filled with glee at the prospect of watching Miles fumble around, and Kareen tells him to be nice.

Enrique asks if Miles was really upset about Ekaterin feeding the bug butter, and Mark says not to worry about it.  Enrique says he’s got an idea to change Miles’s mind about the bugs, but will only say that it’s a secret.  Mark asks Kareen about it, but she has no idea either.  She suggests talking to Ma Kosti about the ice cream freezer, which Miles has probably gotten her one of.  Then she thinks of how Ma Kosti seems a little frustrated with how little cooking she really has to do, and how she likes Mark for his obvious enjoyment of food, and she grabs some bug butter tubs and runs to the kitchen.

Miles arrives at Vorbretten House–more modern than Vorkosigan House, because it had to be rebuilt after the Pretender’s War.  An armsman leads him inside, to where René Vorbretten is sitting in a darkened room.  He is nervous at the arrival of Lord Auditor Vorkosigan, but Miles assures him he’s not there on business.  René was worried that Miles had been sent with the news, but Miles assures him that the Council of Counts still can’t vote without him.  René says the “Ghembrettens'” social life has dwindled away to nothing.  Miles apologizes for not having come sooner, having been on Komarr.

Miles says the Progressive Counts will doubtless want to keep René around–a vote is a vote–but René says some seem to thinking that they don’t want to vote against his opponent, Sigur, and make an enemy of him, in case he wins.  The definite votes one way or the other balance out, leaving the undecideds to settle the matter, and most of them have been avoiding him.  Miles assures René that he has the Vorkosigan vote, no matter what damage Cetagandans might have done to his District.

They discuss the precedents–the horse heir, Lord Midnight (and other, less colourful cases), establishes that a Count’s successor doesn’t have to be a blood relative, but Sigur is claiming that René’s grandfather won his father’s approval fraudulently.  It would make a difference if they could prove that the father had known his heir wasn’t his true son, but they can’t find any evidence in the archives one way or the other.  Miles said that not everyone objected to the Cetagandan bastards, despite widespread customs of killing them and leaving the bodies around to shake up the invaders; Prince Xav himself objected to that practice.  René says they still have no proof, but then, neither does Sigur.

Counthoods generally come up only rarely, as old Counts die, so it’s odd to have two disputed seats at the same time.  Miles asks René if he knows what’s up with Donna Vorrutyer, but René hasn’t heard anything either.  He says he’s grateful that Miles has come to visit, at least; Miles points out that he’s five-eighths Betan, so he can’t think that a little offworlder blood makes anyone unfit.  René does speculate that Lady Donna’s trip to Beta Colony must have something to do with her objection, but he’s not sure what.  Miles guesses that she’s looking for some obscure evidence against her cousin Richars, but René doesn’t think it’s anything that simple.  Ivan might know, having dated her for a while, though René and Miles themselves missed out on that honour.

René says that Miles’s family has been fighting to integrate Miles’s clone Mark into the family; he speculates that Donna might be doing something similar with a clone of the late Pierre Vorrutyer, growing it on Beta Colony and planning to offer it as an alternative heir.  Miles says it might be possible, but he’s not sure if the Counts would accept it.  She was practically running the District anyway, though, so she might make a good guardian.  René mentions one Countess, back in a time of civil war, who had herself legally declared a male so she could inherit.  Miles wonders if there is a clone, whether Donna would want to gestate it in her own womb, which would make it harder to steal, or use a replicator, in which case Richars could end up in custody of it.  In any case, her three months–a generous amount of time, probably dating back to days of travel on horseback–are almost up.

Feminine laughter heralds the arrival of Olivia and Martya Koudelka, who had been out shopping with René’s wife Tatya, Olivia being an old schoolmate of Tatya’s.  They thank Miles for coming to cheer René up, then tell René that he can take them to a concert tomorrow night.  Tatya shows René an envelope from Countess Vorgarin, which she opens eagerly, only to be crushed when it turns to be an “un-invitation” to a baby naming-day party.  Martya and Olivia rip Countess Vorgarin’s character to shreds in absentia, but it doesn’t cheer Tatya up that much.

René notes that they haven’t received a wedding invitation from Gregor and Laisa yet; Miles points out that local invitations haven’t been sent out yet, not mentioning that which Vorbretten to invite is still a matter under discussion.  Wanting to lighten the mood, he invites the Vorbrettens to his upcoming dinner party.  René isn’t sure, but Olivia encourages him to come, saying that Miles is going to show off the lady he’s courting in secret–from her.

René’s brows went up. “You, Miles? I thought you were as confirmed a bachelor as your cousin Ivan. Married to your career.”

Miles grimaced furiously at Olivia, and twitched at René’s last words. “I had this little medical divorce from my career. Olivia, where did you ever get the idea that Madame Vorsoisson—she’s my landscape designer, you see, René, but she’s Lord Auditor Vorthys’s niece, I met her on Komarr, she’s just recently widowed and certainly not—not ready to be anybody’s lady-love. Lord Auditor Vorthys and the Professora will be there too, you see, a family party, nothing inappropriate for her.”

“For who?” asked Martya.

“Ekaterin,” escaped his mouth before he could stop it. All four lovely syllables.

Martya grinned unrepentantly at him. René and his wife looked at each other—Tatya’s dimple flashed, and René pursed his lips thoughtfully.

“Kareen said Lord Mark said you said,” Olivia said innocently. “Who was lying, then?”

Miles explains again that she’s in mourning, her husband just died, and he will declare himself in time, but he can’t yet, he has to wait…and he hates waiting.  When Tatya asks, Miles has to admit he doesn’t know anything about her feelings for him.  He grumbles about Mark spreading his secrets, but Martya says that she, Kareen, and her parents all heard it from different people–Mark, Ivan, Gregor, and Pym–so he’s not doing a good job of keeping it secret.  Trying to defuse the conversation, Tatya accepts Miles’s invitation.  René asks if Miles’s parents will be back from Sergyar yet, and Miles says probably not, but soon; this will be his own party, before the house fills up again.  He’s also concerned about orchestrating Ekaterin meeting his parents just right.

His social duty satisfied, Miles bids them farewell; Martya takes him up an the offer of a ride home.  Miles gives Pym a disgruntled look as they leave, not sure he likes that Pym is acquiring the valuable information he can get through gossip by trading Miles’s information to other people.  He restrains himself from more than glaring, or from berating Martya for twitting him about Ekaterin like that.

He asks how she thinks the Vorbrettens are holding up, and she says René thinks they’re going to lose, and they’re pretty shaken.  Since his father died in the Hegen Hub, he’s hated Cetagandans, so this revelation really unnerves him.  Their marriage is also a little unsteady–they haven’t followed through with their plan to start a family, and Tatya enjoys being a Countess…  Now her friends, apart from Olivia, are avoiding her, too.

“If you go back far enough, we’re all descended from off-worlders, dammit,” Miles growled in frustration. “What’s one-eighth? A tinge. Why should it disqualify one of the best people we have? Competence should count for something.”

Martya’s grin twisted. “If you want sympathy, you’ve come to the wrong store, Miles. If my da were a Count, it wouldn’t matter how competent I was, I still wouldn’t inherit. All the brilliance in the world wouldn’t matter a bit. If you’re just now finding out that this world is unjust, well, you’re behind the times.”

Miles grimaced. “It’s not news to me, Martya.” The car pulled up outside Commodore Koudelka’s townhouse. “But justice wasn’t my job, before.” And power isn’t nearly as all-powerful as it looks from the outside. He added, “But that’s probably the one issue I can’t help you on. I have the strongest personal reasons for not wanting to reintroduce inheritance through the female line into Barrayaran law. Like, my survival. I like my job very well. I don’t want Gregor’s.”

Comments

Ekaterin has now met Kareen and Enrique, and won them over too.  She likes the butter bug guano, she offers helpful suggestions for the bug butter itself, and she has useful information about the Barrayaran vegetation…she’s just an all-around useful person.  It’s so nice to see her blossoming in her new environment, sending out new shoots like that skellytum, no longer bonsai’d, one hopes.  Which is why it’s going to be so devastating for her to find out why Miles really hired her to do his garden…  I am reminded, too, that Enrique seems to fall for her a little bit, too, after this scene.  Plus he’s got his “secret plan” to make Miles like the butter bugs, which I recall turns out really, really, well.  Just like Miles’s dinner party.

I had almost forgotten this scene with Miles and the Vorbrettens, and two more of the Koudelkas–Martya and Olivia, who we barely see, if at all, before this book.  Even in this book I don’t remember much with Olivia, though of course Martya gets a role later on in the book.  Martya’s line near the end of the chapter is quite telling, though, especially given the speculation about Lady Donna’s visit to Beta Colony earlier in the scene.  It is true that, no matter in what other ways it’s improving, Barrayar is not much yet for feminism and women’s rights.

It makes me think of that article that went around the Net a while ago, about how life as a white male was like playing on the easiest setting, compared to life as a woman or a minority.  Does Miles, even with his physical issues, qualify for that?  If I was building him for a role-playing game, one of those where you can give your character disadvantages to get more “character points” to buy things, his social class and mental skills would more than offset his physical limitations.  Even he would have an easier time getting into the military than Elena, and an easier time becoming Count than Martya.  Even _Mark_ would have an easier time becoming Count, and he was a clone born offworld and raised by Komarran radicals.  He’s male, though, and that’s the important thing.  Anyway, this book, taking place so much on Barrayar, and featuring so many female characters, gets the most heavily into gender issues.  At the very least, I can look around at our world and say that at least we’re a little bit more progressive than Barrayar…right?  Aren’t we?


No promises of a two-chapter post next week, but it could happen.  May depend on chapter length as well as random circumstantial factors–weather, sleep, and other potential gumption traps.  Lady Donna should be showing up soon, and the visit to the Vorkosigan District…and the fateful dinner party is looming…  Oh, yeah, and Vormoncrief’s Baba may have arrived by now.  Should be fun, in any case, except for the winceworthy painful embarrassing bits…

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